Bloodshed in the headlines: What is the current world situation with religious persecution?

Bloodshed in the headlines: What is the current world situation with religious persecution?


What is the current world situation with religious persecution?


The slaughter of 50 Muslims and wounding of dozens more at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, provoked horror in that pacific nation, and sorrow and disgust worldwide. Why would anyone violate the religious freedom, indeed the very lives, of innocent people who had simply gathered to worship God?

Unfortunately, murders at religious sanctuaries are not a rare occurrence. In the U.S., recall the murders of six Sikh worshipers at Oak Creek, Wisconsin (2012); nine African Methodists at a prayer meeting in Charleston, S.C. (2015); 26 Southern Baptists in a Sunday morning church rampage at Sutherland Springs, Texas (2017); and 11 Jews observing the Sabbath at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue last October.

The Christchurch atrocity was unusual in that authorities identified a white nationalist as the assailant. Most mosque attacks are not carried out by a demented individual, but by radical Muslim movements that intend to kill fellow Muslims for sectarian political purposes. The most shocking example occurred in 1979. A well-armed force of messianic extremists assaulted the faith’s holiest site, the Grand Mosque in Mecca, during the annual pilgrimage (Hajj). The reported death toll was 117 attackers and 127 pilgrims and security guards, with 451 others wounded.

After Christchurch, The Associated Press culled its archives to list 879 deaths in mass murders at mosques during the past decade. (Data are lacking on sectarian attacks upon individual Muslims, also a serious problem for the faith). Such incidents get scant coverage in U.S. news media.

2010: Extremist Sunnis in the Jundallah sect bomb to death six people and themselves at a mosque in southeastern Iran. Then a second Jundallah suicide bombing at an Iranian Shiite mosque kills 27 and injures 270.

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Mirror-image news again: Mother Emanuel hosts historic racial-reconciliation service

Mirror-image news again: Mother Emanuel hosts historic racial-reconciliation service

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to give thanks for a recent event linked to racial reconciliation in the deep South, a worship service held in a highly symbolic sanctuary.

I will get to that in a moment.

But first, let’s engage in another “mirror image” experiment. This is a common GetReligion device in which we create a news story — an upside-down or inside-out version of a real story — and then ask what kind of mainstream news coverage it would have received.

So, let’s imagine that the leader of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, had traveled south to preach at the historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. Readers may recall that Curry delivered a long and spectacular sermon at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It was quite a scene.

Readers will, of course, remember that Mother Emanuel was the site of the massacre by white supremacist Dylann Roof, who gunned down eight worshippers during an evening Bible study.

So let’s say that Curry comes to this holy ground to preach on racial reconciliation. The church is packed and another 400 people watch the service on closed-circuit video in another sanctuary nearby.

My question: Would this event have received significant coverage in local, regional and even national media?

I am guessing that the answer is “yes.”

Now, the mirror-image question: Was it news when Southern Baptists — led by South Carolina Baptist Convention President Marshall Blalock — filled Mother Emanuel for a “Building Bridges” worship service, praying for racial reconciliation in their state and in America as a whole? Yes, 400 more watched a closed-circuit feed at Citadel Square Baptist Church.

Was it news? As best I can tell, with online searches, the answer is “no.” This surprises me, since Southern Baptists statements on race have made news in recent years. Maybe that’s an old story now?

Anyway, here is some key material from Baptist Press:

"I don't know if we've ever been in a more sacred place," Blalock told messengers and guests. "As we gather in Mother Emanuel Church, the place itself speaks to us of the power of faith in Christ Jesus. We're in a place of safety because, while it's where hearts were broken, it's also the place where the life-saving power of God's grace is."

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Monday Mix: Failure at the top, heartbreaking ties, Sutherland Springs anniversary, black churches

Monday Mix: Failure at the top, heartbreaking ties, Sutherland Springs anniversary, black churches

Welcome to another edition of the Monday Mix, where we focus on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Four weekend reads

1. “The bishops simply do not have anyone looking over their shoulder. Each bishop in his own diocese is pretty much king.”

A massive story broke over the weekend in the Catholic Church’s ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandal: a joint investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer and Boston Globe concerning American bishops’ failure to police themselves.

The stunning finding:

More than 130 U.S. bishops – or nearly one-third of those still living — have been accused during their careers of failing to adequately respond to sexual misconduct in their dioceses, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer and Boston Globe examination of court records, media reports, and interviews with church officials, victims, and attorneys.

At least 15, including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington who resigned in July, have themselves been accused of committing such abuse or harassment.

2. “It was an attack on America because it challenges our right to assemble and worship our God in the way we want. It has continued a downward spiral of hate, one that’s prevalent in all corners of the United States.”

After another hate-fueled shooting at a house of worship, an African Methodist pastor from Charleston, S.C., and a Conservative rabbi from Pittsburgh are bound together by “the unspeakable grief of two unconscionable desecrations.”

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Charleston. Sutherland Springs. Pittsburgh. Why local reporters are crucial in a 'national' tragedy

Charleston. Sutherland Springs. Pittsburgh. Why local reporters are crucial in a 'national' tragedy

Pay attention to Peter Smith.

If that name doesn’t ring a bell, Smith is the award-winning religion writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Your friendly GetReligionistas have been praising his exceptional journalism for years.

At the moment, Smith is — along with the rest of his Post-Gazette colleagues — working overtime on coverage of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting that claimed 11 lives. Today, he’s leading the coverage of funerals for synagogue victims. He’s also reporting on a congregant who hid in a closet and called 911. Earlier, he wrote about an emotional vigil for victims of the synagogue shooting.

And here’s a safe bet: Smith and his newspaper will stick with the story long after the national news media have moved on. That’s not a criticism of the major press per se (after all, I do most of my own reporting for national outlets), but it’s a recognition of the important role of local journalists such as Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes and Silvia Foster-Frau.

You remember Hawes, right?

She’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C. For months and even years after nine black worshipers were shot to death at the Emanuel AME Church in June 2015, she provided must-read, behind-the-scenes accounts of victims dealing with that tragedy.

“Switch off cable and go local,” someone urged after the Charleston massacre, and we couldn’t help but agree.

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Powerful piece on Emanuel AME jury foreman brings tears, and a lingering question

Powerful piece on Emanuel AME jury foreman brings tears, and a lingering question

I'm not sure where my fascination with juries started. Perhaps it began when I read John Grisham's 1996 legal thriller novel "The Runaway Jury," which later was turned into a movie starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz. Or maybe it has something to do with the trials I've covered in my long journalism career.

Recently, my wife, Tamie, basically forced me to listen to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution podcast series in which the newspaper's editor, Kevin Riley, recounts his experience serving as the jury foreman in a double-murder case. As always, my wife knows best: The Breakdown  series is suspenseful and thought-provoking. I really enjoyed it.

Speaking of juries, an amazing narrative piece on the foreman in the trial of Dylann Roof — the gunman sentenced to death in the Emanuel AME Church massacre in Charleston, S.C. — was published over the weekend.

The byline on the piece in The Post and Courier won't surprise regular GetReligion readers (for the rest of you, click here, here and here to see what I'm talking about).

Yes, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jennifer Berry Hawes has hit another home run:

When he went to court that day, summoned to jury duty, he hadn't expected to step into a dark chapter of Charleston’s history. His job had kept him on two continents in the months prior, so he wasn’t up on the local news.
When he arrived in the federal courtroom as juror No. 102, he glanced at the defendant in a striped jail jumpsuit — a slim young white man with a bowl haircut. 
Dylann Roof.
Along with the final herd of 67 potential jurors, the last of those winnowed from a pool of 3,000, Gerald Truesdale crammed onto a crowded bench. He listened to 17 of the 18 numbers called out for those would serve on the jury or as alternates.
Each rose and walked to the jury box, then took a seat.
One more to go. He prepared to leave.
“Juror No. 102.”
Given his job as a corporate executive, Truesdale was used to moving in front of large groups. Yet now he felt shaky as he rose from the third row. All eyes watched him step through a waist-high swinging door, across the courtroom and toward the last empty seat in the jury box.
The foreman’s chair.

Hawes' story marks the first time any jurors in the Roof case have shared their stories.

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A motive in Nashville church shooting? Associated Press report cites possible retaliation for Charleston

A motive in Nashville church shooting? Associated Press report cites possible retaliation for Charleston

Earlier this week, I addressed the question of whether the news media underplayed the Tennessee church shooting story.

I quoted a few critics who made that claim.

But I disagreed, maintaining that the level of coverage — which I pointed out was not insignificant — would have been higher if more church members had died:

Sadly, in America in 2017, a mass shooting in which one person dies is not going to dominate the news cycle for long. Such tragedies have become too common.

One reader — who dubbed himself/herself "TooMuchDarkness" — responded to that post with this complaint:

I haven't seen one shred of investigative journalism delving into the background of the shooter, interviewing friend, family, coworkers and classmates trying understand what drove him to commit such a crime. Who are his parents and why are they spared the exposure most murderer's parents get. I'd like to know more but journalists don't seem to care.

Well, actually ...

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Victim's blood-stained Bible 'reminds me of the blood Jesus shed for me and you, Dylann Roof'

Victim's blood-stained Bible 'reminds me of the blood Jesus shed for me and you, Dylann Roof'


So powerful.

That's the only way to describe the lede on today's front-page Post and Courier story on victim impact statements to Dylann Roof, the condemned gunman in the Emanuel AME church massacre:

Clutching the blood-stained Bible she had with her when Dylann Roof executed nine family and friends around her, Felicia Sanders told the self-avowed white supremacist in court Wednesday that she still forgives him for his actions. They have scarred her life but haven't shaken her faith.
Addressing Roof the day after a jury sentenced him to death, Sanders said the mass shooting that killed nine black worshippers at Emanuel AME Church in June 2015 has left her unable to hear a balloon pop or an acorn fall without being startled. She can no longer shut her eyes when she prays.
But she will carry on, she told him, and continue to follow the words of God still clear in the battered Bible she cherishes.
"I brought my Bible to the courtroom ... shot up," she said. "It reminds me of the blood Jesus shed for me and you, Dylann Roof."
Sanders, who lost her son Tywanza and her aunt Susie Jackson in the shooting, told Roof that when she looks at him she sees "someone who is cold, who is lost, who the devil has come back to reclaim." 

As many times as I've praised the Charleston, S.C., daily's coverage of the massacre and its aftermath — most recently on Wednesday — I know I sound like a broken record.

But the latest story by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes and her Post and Courier colleagues is again filled with relevant, compelling religious details such as these:

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As Emanuel AME gunman gets death, looking for faith — and finding it — on victims' side

As Emanuel AME gunman gets death, looking for faith — and finding it — on victims' side

It's impossible to tell the story of the Emanuel AME church massacre without a huge dose of faith.

All along, we at GetReligion have praised the unsurpassed local coverage of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes and her colleagues with the Post and Courier, the daily newspaper in Charleston, S.C.

In the wake of gunman Dylann Roof receiving a federal death sentence Tuesday, we again point readers to Hawes & Co.'s banner coverage of the decision.

But I also want to call special attention to a national story on Roof's sentencing, via the New York Times: 

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Dylann S. Roof, the unrepentant and inscrutable white supremacist who killed nine African-American churchgoers in a brazen racial rampage almost 19 months ago, an outburst of extremist violence that shocked the nation, was condemned to death by a federal jury on Tuesday.
The jury of nine whites and three blacks, who last month found Mr. Roof guilty of 33 counts for the attack at this city’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, returned their unanimous verdict after about three hours of deliberations in the penalty phase of a heart-rending and often legally confounding trial.

The Times' story is full of strong and appropriate religion content, including this reaction:

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In Bible Belt, after massacre in a church, is executing Dylann Roof a 'security' question?

In Bible Belt, after massacre in a church, is executing Dylann Roof a 'security' question?

Hey journalists. Have you ever watched the local news coverage of a news event in which you -- as a citizen, as opposed to being there as a reporter -- were an active participant?

This has happened to me a few times, primarily when my own local church gets involved in some kind of cause. That's what happened long ago in Charlotte when I took part in a midnight prayer vigil in opposition to North Carolina's use of the death penalty. Frequent readers of this blog over the years are probably aware that I am totally opposed to the death penalty, just as I am opposed to abortion and euthanasia.

This particular event in my past provides the background for my comments on the Washington Post story about the death penalty and the Dylann Roof case down in South Carolina. The headline: "What to expect as prosecutors try to persuade jurors to sentence Dylann Roof to death." 

This story ran, for some reason, under a "National Security" header.

Now, our own Bobby Ross Jr. has tons lots of critiques of media coverage linked to the role that religious faith -- especially concepts of grace and forgiveness -- have played in events surrounding this crime and its aftermath. Click here, please, to look through some of that. It's really hard to cover stories linked to the death penalty without getting into religious territory. This is especially true in the American heartland.

This brings me back to that midnight prayer vigil in Charlotte, which took place in an Episcopal church near downtown. The church sanctuary and nave were dark -- candles only, except for a reader's light on the pulpit -- when the television crew entered. People were praying silently and then, every 10 minutes or so, there would be readings from scripture.

In that era, portable light rigs for television cameras were really outrageous. Then the lights were on the camera guy made him look like an approaching UFO as he walked -- I am not joking -- down the center aisle filming people praying in the candlelight. He kept going until he was past the pulpit and up near the altar, shining those glaring lights back into everyone's eyes during a Bible reading.

People were rather upset. There we were on our knees praying for the state not to use the death penalty and, well, we pretty much wanted to kill that camera guy with a barrage of prayerbooks.

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